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Portrait de rapha maître
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About the item

Portrait de Rapha Maître is one of Renoir’s most stunning and monumental early works. Painted in 1871, it belongs to an important group of commissioned portraits that helped establish him in the front rank of the Parisian avant-garde. Throughout the 1870s, Renoir painted a number of works portraying his ever expanding group of patrons and their families, but few of them display the richness in rendering of the sitter’s costume and the setting visible in the present work. Writing about Renoir’s art from this period, Keith Wheldon commented: "Renoir’s career as a portraitist had been developing well, bringing him more commissions and giving him an introduction to some influential patrons. The degree of importance Renoir attached to portraiture is demonstrated by the fact that in the second Impressionist Exhibition of April 1876 he did not include any landscapes amongst the fifteen works he exhibited, and of them ten were commissioned portraits" (K. Wheldon, Renoir and his Art, London, 1975, p. 74).\n\nThe sitter in the present work is Camille, also known as Rapha, who was a mistress of Louis-Edmond Maître for over thirty years. Maître (1840-1898) was the son of a prosperous lawyer from Bordeaux, who came to Paris in 1859 for legal training, but ended up taking minor posts in the city’s bureaucracy, while pursuing his interests in painting, poetry and music. His circle of friends included artists such as Renoir, Bazille and Fantin-Latour, as well as the poets Baudelaire and Verlaine. Little is known, however, of his mistress Rapha, a girl of Belgian origin whom he met as a student, and who remained his companion until his death. "Her full name and age unknown, this figure would have remained completely mysterious were it not for the testimony of Jacques-Emile Blanche, who had known Maître from the age of nine and clearly idolized him; it was to Maître that Blanche dedicated Les Arts plastiques (1931). In Aymeris, Blanche’s roman-à-clef written on the eve of the First World War but not published until 1922, Maître appears as Léon Maillac, mentor to the young portraitist Georges, and Camille [Rapha] as Florette, the querulous harpy with whom he has shared his bed for over thirty years" (Renoir’s Portraits, Impressions of an Age (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1997, pp. 114 & 116).\n\nIn June 1870, Renoir spent several weeks at Maître’s apartment at 5 rue Taranne, and it was probably the interior of that apartment that is depicted in the present work, with the sitter looking through an unseen window. "Dressed in the latest fashion [fig. 1], her lace and silk ensemble a cavalcade of swirls and frills, Rapha Maître looks out of the window, past the iron birdcage that houses four budgerigars (two green, two white) and a tray of water. The corner of the highly patterned interior in which she stands has been transformed into a makeshift conservatory, with purple pansies under the birdcage, and arum lily about to bloom, and a crescent of red hyacinths that mirrors the folds of her dress and whose crimson highlights are reflected in the creams and yellows of her skirt" (ibid., p. 114). Apart from this monumental portrait, Renoir executed two head studies of Rapha (fig. 2), whose format and intimacy suggest a friendship between her and the artist. The mood and technique of the present work, in particular the richly painted surface of the woman’s dress, are reminiscent of Femme au perroquet by Edouard Manet (fig. 3), whose art had a strong impact on Renoir during his early career. Furthermore, Renoir's art was also influenced by Claude Monet's early portraits (fig. 4 & 5), especially those that reveal the artist's fascination with Japonisme and the depiction of highly ornamented fabrics.\n\nIn his review of the exhibition held in London in 1899, Dugald Sutherland MacColl wrote that Portrait de Rapha Maître "is all vivacity and dainty poise; it is not one piece of furniture among several, but a living presence radiating pleasure, grasped from head to foot, solidly painted, exquisitely measured and balanced for its picture-place. The figure is unforgettable, hanging there a moment in reverie over the bird’s cage. It makes one think that just at this node of his orbit a rare art existed for Renoir […] It is as near perfection in its kind as painting can go. The passage of light across the head the neck and the shoulder, the discrimination of muslin stuff, of the arm showing through, the transparencies and thickenings of the delicious creams and yellows, the lovely blondness of flesh and hair against the nameless dark of the background compete with Terburg; no Preraphaelite ever wrought so much detail into so broad a whole" (D. S. MacColl, op. cit., reprinted in Kate Flint (ed.), Impressionists in England: The Critical Reception, London, 1984, p. 337).\n\nAfter the death of Louis-Edmond Maître in May 1898, his estate was divided among his family members. Rapha received little of his possessions, apart from two of Renoir’s portraits of herself, including the present work, which she sold to Durand-Ruel in the same year. Portrait de Rapha Maître was later in the possession of the industrialist and art collector Auguste Pellerin, and the lower part of it is depicted in Matisse’s portrait of Pellerin of 1916 (fig. 6), showing the sitter proudly posing in front of his recently acquired masterpiece.\n\nFig. 1, Quelques nouveaux costumes de MM. Arigon et Bordet, from La Vie Parisienne, Paris, 30th September 1871\nFig. 2, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Portrait de Rapha Maître, 1871, oil on canvas, The Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts\nFig. 3, Edouard Manet, Femme au perroquet, 1866, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York\nFig. 4, Claude Monet, Portrait de Madame Louis Joachim Gaudibert, 1868, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris\nFig. 5, Claude Monet, La Japonaise (Camille Monet), 1876, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Art, Boston\nFig. 6, Henri Matisse, Auguste Pellerin (I), 1916, oil on canvas, Private Collection\nSigned A. Renoir and dated avril 71 (lower right)
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medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

dimensions

130 by 83 cm., 51 1/8 by 32 5/8 in.

exhibition

London, International Society, 1899, no. 40 Berlin, Secession, Zweite Kunstausstellung der Berliner Secession, 1900, no. 244, illustrated Basel, Kunsthalle, Exposition d'art français, 1906, no. 517 London, Hayward Gallery; Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais and Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Renoir, 1985-86, no. 19 (in London); no. 18 (in Paris and Boston), illustrated in colour in the catalogue Tübingen, Kunsthalle, Renoir, 1996, no. 13, illustrated in colour in the catalogue Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada; Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago and Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, Renoir's Portraits. Impressions of an Age, 1997-98, no. 11, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

literature

Dugald Sutherland MacColl, "Review", in Saturday Review, LXXXVII, London, 27th May 1899, p. 651, mentioned Julius Meier-Graefe, Auguste Renoir, Paris, 1912, p. 35, illustrated Karl Scheffler, "Die Maler 1870 und 1914", in Kunst und Künstler, Berlin, 1914-15, p. 209, illustrated Julius Meier-Graefe, Renoir, Leipzig, 1929, p. 45, no. 27, illustrated Michel Florisoone, Renoir, Paris, 1937, p. 94, illustrated Claude Roger-Marx, Renoir, Paris, 1937, p. 27, illustrated Charles Terrasse, Cinquante portraits de Renoir, Paris, 1941, pl. 5, illustrated Michel Drucker, Renoir, Paris, 1944, pl. 16, illustrated Michel Drucker, Renoir, Paris, 1955, pl. 14, illustrated Henri Perruchot, La Vie de Renoir, Paris, 1964, p. 74 François Daulte, Auguste Renoir. Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint. Figures 1860-1890, Lausanne, 1971, vol. I, no. 66, illustrated Elda Fezzi, L'Opera completa di Renoir nel periodo impressionista 1869-1883, Milan, 1972, no. 60, illustrated Renoir (exhibition catalogue), Cologne, 1996, no. 13 Elizabeth Cowling and John Golding, Matisse Picasso (exhibition catalogue), London, 2002, p. 348, fig. 37, illustrated 

provenance

Louis-Edmond Maître, Paris Rapha Maître, Paris (by descent from the above in 1898) Durand-Ruel, Paris (acquired from the above on 11th October 1898) Alfred Poznanski, Paris (acquired from the above on 5th April 1909) Auguste Pellerin, Paris (acquired by 1916) Mme René Lecomte, Paris (daughter of the above; by descent in 1929) Louis de Chaisemartin, Neuilly-sur-Seine Private Collection, Switzerland

signedDate

Signed A. Renoir and dated avril 71 (lower right)

time_period

Painted in April 1871.

creator_nationality_dates

1841-1919





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